Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Reestablishment of the Sanhedrin

I missed this from nearly a year ago. The Sanhedrin were a group of Jewish religious leaders whose theological doctrines differed from the Pharisees somewhat. I'm interested in what happens in Israel because of the verbage from eschatological scholars concerning the status of Israel and Judaism in the end times. I must confess an ignorance of prophecy in general, although I have studied eschatology on a cursory level. This may or may not be an indication of the "signs of the times", but it is with fascination that I observe a return of things to a state in which a more literal interpretation of the apocriphal writing in the Bible is made possible.

Items like this are a little less kooky-sounding than such as the discovery of the ashes of the red heifer, the return of the blue-dye-producing snails, and the multiple claims of the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant in places where "...gee, we just can't get it out to show anybody."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Venezuela: The Dump

The dump contains my dearest memories of Venezuela. The city dump of Maracaibo is near a community of Paraguachon. (This is different, I believe, than the town of the same name that lies on the Colombian border about an hour's drive north-by-northwest of Maracaibo.) ITAM only allows men up on the dump. Local women and children may live up there, but it can be dangerous.

The team visited the ITAM store next to the Iglesia Bautista, Fuente de Amor, where they sell crafts made by the people at the dump. A few of us took one of the busses to the dump. We parked in an area where our team did a carnival last year and walked up on the dump from there. It's an open-air dump and has to be about two miles across and growing. It's huge.

We trudged toward the center of the dump. I had left my glasses at home - I'm slightly near-sighted with some astigmatism. I would see what appeared to be flocks of birds in the distance circling over one area then another. I had never seen so many birds circle at once. I made a comment to one of the other men and he informed me that what I saw was not a flock of birds. Rather, it was a large trash version of a dust devil. If you've ever seen the larger dust devils in the American desert, these were about the height of those with a larger diameter. I'll never forget the sight (albeit blurry) of that much trash in the air due to the rising of methane-heated air from the layers of fermenting garbage.

As we walked we chanced upon a woman named Maria and her daughter, whose name is pronounced "Hennessy". Their faces radiated great joy and Maria didn't stop praising God for being alive yet another day. They asked nothing from us, instead giving us warm hugs of welcome. I could've taken them both home with me right then. Not a day has passed since then that I haven't thought of them. Their joy and hope are an example of the work that our teams and others have done in Venezuela.

We proceeded until we came within 100 yards or so of a group taking fresh garbage off the garbage trucks from the city. Yes, I know: "fresh garbage" is an oxymoron. But in the dump, it's necessary to distinguish between that on which one tramples and that from which one seeks items to redeem. Don't miss the meaning here: God has redemmed us from no less.

As we beheld the activity of those sorting through the garbage, we were moved to pray. We gathered in a circle to hold hands, but before we prayed, someone commented that we naturally face inward to pray, but that the ministry of the church is to be outward. We turned around and faced outward. As we prayed someone was moved to raise their hands. Our hands rose slowly in a wave around the circle. The ITAM photographer who had tagged along had been a sort distance away and had come upon us. He snapped this photo just in time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More on Gas Prices

My earlier musing are proving to be correct. In the news of late:

Utah, Wyoming and Colorado are sitting on an undeveloped play of oil that could dwarf the reserves in the Middle East.

Congress is moving to outlaw price gouging, although there is little evidence that it is actually happening.

OPEC recognizes that oil production is not the issue. Instead it is the lack of refineries to the extent that Kuwait is looking to build a refinery in the US.

The issue with the refineries is that over-regulation makes it too cost prohibitive for oil companies to build new refineries. While we have the potential to become independent from OPEC by developing our own oil reserves, it would do us little good at the pump. Congress' solution is a power grab in disguise. The legislation would allow the US federal government to further regulate industries even outside the oil industry. While no one wants price gouging, the best check on prices is solid capitalistic competition. What congress needs to do, instead of grabbing more power, is to relinquish power in the form of relieveing the industry of some of the unnecessary regulations that make it cost prohibitive to develop as necessary.

Friday, September 16, 2005

New Orleans, the New Venice

Bush mentioned in his speech that New Orleans would be rebuilt. I have an idea for rebuilding New Orleans that could keep New Orleans historic charm and renovate its character at the same time. My idea could also solve some of the physical problems that have plagued it ever increasingly over the years.

Not all the city is within the big flood areas. Those areas that can be kept on land without much effort should stay there. However, the parts that require much effort to keep dry should be allowed to flood. In these areas, I suggest building a modern Venetian city. Dry roads can be built over the water to parking decks from which above-water walks can lead to buildings, the first floor of which is above water.Where the Mississippi has eroded its banks and threatens the city, baffles could be erected to control the force of the flow into New Orleans and used to keep the watery streets fresh.

The city should plan on tourism beyond what it has ever seen.

On a side note: As I've been posting about Venezuela, I've learned that the name "Venezuela" means "little Venice" and was called so because the Indian huts along the rivers reminded European explorers of Venice.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Venezuela - Construction

In the past, the team has built houses. We were blessed to be able to visit one of the houses our team built last year as well as briefly greet the woman for whom it was built.

This year, however, we were asked to do some much-needed repairs and improvements to the building of our host church. The big repair item was to re-tile the bathroom. One simple item was to put a fresh coat of paint on some of the stucco walls and metal doors. Some of the improvements included filling in some of the windows and installing windows in other places of the walls. (This is easily done with the type of architecture, but is foreign to us gringos who are more familiar with wood frame construction.) Also, we were to create a doorway where there wasn't one and seal a room so it could be locked for safe storage of equipment.

It was like a version of Monster House where a team renovates a house in a week's time. So this would be Monster Church, Maracaibo? We started on Monday by dismantling the bathroom and painting the walls. Most of us could paint the walls, but we got it done in that one day. The rest of the projects were in areas more confined in which we couldn't work effectively if all of us were there. So a few of us moved to working the carnival.

One of the difficulties in which the construction team needed to excercise grace was in functioning under the watchful eye of a couple of the elders of the church. The elders had certain ideas of how things should be done and our team was concerned that some of their ideas created inefficiencies and unnecessary waste. Nevertheless, the construction team was able to accommodate their requests with little incident.

At the end of the week, the projects were not entirely complete. The windows were finished and the new door was cut. Also, the painting was finished except where the windows had been changed. The bathroom was retiled, although there was concern that they wouldn't keep from chipping and cracking. The surface was excessively pitted and uneven and the Venezuelan tiles are very brittle and easily broken. We were not able to reinstall the fixtures, which should not be too difficult for the Venezuelans to do. The room to be sealed was not sealed. We obtained the materials to do it, and prepped it for the work, but we couldn't finish it. The doorway we were to cut, we cut, but we didn't have the time to install the door.

In all, we were disappointed that we couldn't finish everything, but we made enough progress that the projects could be finished by members of the church there.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Gas Prices

I'm going to give my analysis as an amateur economist. I hear many complain about the prices as they go up. I'll break it down in the simplest terms.

First, oil is sold in a market as though it were being auctioned. The US purchasers have customers that are placing orders. They must buy a certain amount and fear that if they bid too low, they will not be able to purchase what they need to satisfy their customer's orders. Because of increased demand from the industrialization of China, buyers have been bidding too high. This is where the high cost of oil per barrel is coming from.

Second, EPA restrictions make it cost-prohibitive for oil companies to build more refineries. Instead, the refineries focus on maximizing capacity at existing refineries. Consequently, there is little room to absorb demand spikes. The refineries are our biggest bottleneck and one of our biggest opportunities for reducing fuel costs. We just need more refineries. On top of this, different states have different requirements on the particular mix according to what the state legislatures think the mix ought to be for the best environmental impact. Therefore, the refineries need anticipate regional demands and make what they think will be ordered ahead of time. This requires additional cost to administer.

Third, different areas have different distributors. These distributors don't necessarily have the same cost structures. They differ depending on their organization and distribution demands. Lower population areas will cost more to deliver because they tend to be farther form the distribution center and require more time and fuel for delivery.

Fourth, trends can be tracked, and deliveries scheduled, but exceptional circumstances cause rescheduling nightmares. If you deliver early to one station, you inevitably deliver late to another station. This rescheduling drives costs up to a premium. This means that the local gas stations have to pay more to keep fuel in stock so they can keep their pumps open. They may have bought the fuel already in the station, but they need to pay for the next delivery.

You can't blame all the fuel costs on the "oil companies" and "price gouging". It may happen some, but the Federal Trade Commission actually does a fair job of keeping things from getting out of hand. If you want lower fuel prices, do the following:

1. Use less. Slow down, carpool, and learn to conserve.
2. Advocate for common sense alternatives to petroleum.
3. Advocate for more refineries to be built and more oil to be drilled.
4. Don't buy into the "greedy oil companies" propoganda put out by the anti-capitalists. Research the problem and address the real issues.

New Orleans

We've all known for a long time that there was great evil in New Orleans. There are also many people from New Orleans who don't subscribe to the evil that has subversively plagued the place. Even those who didn't leave as instructed demonstrate an adolescent defiance that manifests a false sense of invincibility. I speak as one who himself has been redeemed from great evil. I struggle to this day with the temptation to do evil. New Orleans isn't the only place where evil lives. Planet earth has been ravaged by it since the fall of man. My point is that having looters, rapists and murderers running rampant in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina should be no surprise.

Unfortunately, while many are working to help the refugees from New Orleans, there are many more who refuse to open their doors. This is no less evil. Kudos to the city of Houston for their generosity, but Houston can't accommodate them all. Be on the lookout for the opportunity to financially help those who have the room to put up refugees.

The Temple May Be Able To Be Rebuilt?!?

A side note: I'm not finished writing about Venezuela. I'm in the process of ripping some stills from the ITAM DVD to post here and Microsoft doesn't make it easy. I'll update the last post about Carnival stories with a photo or two from the DVD. Now on to an interesting tidbit:

Here's a quote from the linked article:

If Kaufman is right about cubits, it's possible Israel could someday rebuild the Temple without having to destroy Islam's Dome of the Rock -- not that Muslims would welcome such nearby construction, either.

For those of you interested in eschatology, this should be intriguing. Many shy away from the study of endtimes in theBible because there is so much debate about it and it's difficult to wade theough all the diverse references in the Bible.

But one of the things mentioned in the apocriphal passages is the temple. This would seem to indicate that the temple will be rebuilt sometime in the future. The fact that the Muslims have a big mosque sitting on the mount has been a problem with this actually happening. The discussion in this article is not entirely a new one, but that it's receiving new attention in the media is an indication that the devout Jews in Israel are becoming more open with what they've been wanting to do since the UN gave the land back to them earlier last century.